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Track Record: New music reviews

  • This CD cover image released by Epic Records shows "Ciara" by Ciara, releasing on July 9, 2013.  (AP Photo/Epic Records)

Ciara

Ciara

Epic Records; $9.99

The lead single from Ciara’s self-titled fifth album, “Body Party,” is an oozing, seductive R&B track that deserves rousing applause — especially when the 27-year-old matches the song with daring and sensual dance moves that scream Janet Jackson, Aaliyah and others that have come before her, as she did at the recent BET Awards.

The bedroom groove is easily the best of the 11 tracks that make up “Ciara.” There are others that shine, too: The bouncy “Livin’ It Up,” one of two songs to feature Nicki Minaj, has an empowering feel; the mid-tempo “Read My Lips” is appealing and Ciara’s sweet tone rides nicely over the semi-electronic beat of “Overdose.”

Still, the album doesn’t feel special. While it’s much better than her last two releases the album is made up of fillers that have you still wondering what kind of singer Ciara is.

Like her past records, “Ciara” isn’t cohesive, and instead, sporadic — some hits here, satisfactory work there, but overall, mediocrity reigns. The album, out on Epic Records, is her first album since leaving LaFace Records, her home since she released her multi-platinum 2004 debut, the explosive “Goodies.” She had hits from that album and its follow-up, “Ciara: The Evolution,” but she hasn’t established her own style or sound in the near-decade she’s been on the scene. Ciara, the person, is still searching for Ciara, the singer.

Ciara kicked-off her new album with three different singles — “Sweat,” “Sorry” and “Got Me Good” — that now don’t appear on “Ciara,” a sign of her creative struggles. The album features producers and songwriters like Rodney Jerkins, Mike WiLL Made-It, Livvi Franc and Future, her rapper-boyfriend who co-wrote and co-produced “Body Party.” Hopefully, he can be the Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis to her Janet — or she can find someone else to fill that slot.

Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole

George Benson

Concord; $10

Just how much Nat King Cole inspired George Benson is evident on the opening track of “Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole” — a 1951 recording of an 8-year-old Benson singing “Mona Lisa,” accompanying himself on ukulele.

Like Cole, Benson first established himself as a jazz instrumentalist before crossing over to pop stardom once he began singing.

Benson shows off his jazz vocal chops with scat singing on a fast-paced, brassy big band version of “Just One Of Those Things” and a Latin-flavored arrangement of “Unforgettable,” with Wynton Marsalis contributing smooth trumpet.

He harmonizes beautifully with Broadway leading lady Idina Menzel on “When I Fall In Love” and rising star Judith Hill, recently eliminated from “The Voice,” on “Too Young.” Other highlights include a bluesy “Route 66” and a retro-style “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” with a hard-driving guitar solo — both done in a small combo setting.

But Benson misses an opportunity to put his distinctive stamp on the Cole repertoire by letting his guitar take a backseat to his voice. The result is that some tracks such as “Nature Boy” and Mona Lisa,” which also use Nelson Riddle’s arrangements for Cole’s recordings, can sound derivative rather than fresh.

Ice on the Dune

Empire of the Sun

Astralwerks; $10

Empire of the Sun’s new album opens with the instrumental track “Lux,” using drums of epic grandeur to build the anticipation for a record we have waited five years to hear.

That’s followed by “DNA,” a surefire single and the strongest track on “Ice on the Dune.” The voice of lead singer Luke Steele — who has co-written songs for Usher and Beyonce — blends nicely as he sings “be my DNA” over a brilliant beat, which results in a pounding chorus

The Australian electronic duo’s sophomore album is polished. It seems like almost every song could be a summer anthem.

The lyrics are loved up, and even in the slower moments on the record, Empire of the Sun gets it right. The title track is dreamy and smooth, as Steele sings: “Let’s go running away, we can always be together,” and “I’ll Be Around” hits you with Fleetwood Mac style.

Wherever you dance this summer, you will be dancing to this record.

The Wack Album

The Lonely Island

Republic Records; $11.99

The Lonely Island pull another magic trick out of the fun box — and it’s their third studio record, “The Wack Album.” The Weird Al Yankoviches of the 21st century tackle sexual etiquette, double standards, general stupidity and wardrobe malfunctions with the help of Solange, Ed Norton, Pharrell, Too $hort, Kristen Wiig and Robyn, among many others.

The jester minstrels’ lead single, “YOLO,” is an anthemic track deriding the oft-used acronym with guest vocals from Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar. “3-Way (The Golden Rule),” originally released in 2011 with Lady Gaga and their always game collaborator Justin Timberlake, offers a classic R&B sound.

Another standout on the 20-song list is the tongue-in-cheek “Hugs,” where the threesome — led by Andy Samberg — lay the rules for a good platonic “upper body grip,” while the bouncy “You’ve Got the Look” reveals an unexpected side of Hugh Jackman, who shows off his pipes and sense of humor.

Unburdened by the bland, nonsensical lyrics of the mainstream, their sexy hooks work for and against them. Sometimes the track sounds so authentically straight up that some might miss the genius of the words. “Yo, I drove past a rally saying ‘honk for peace,’ so I took out my gun and shot ‘em all in the knees.” That about sums it up.

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